The Simpsons has graced our TVs for 33 seasons. That alone means we’ve seen hundreds instances of Homer injuring himself. After more than 700 episodes, there are few things The Simpsons haven’t done. But episode 723, “The Sound of Bleeding Gums,” featured a monumental first for the series. The Simpsons featured its first deaf actor and used American Sign Language (ASL) during the episode.
In the episode, Lisa Simpson meets Monk Murphy, the son of the late Bleeding Gums Murphy, a saxophonist and her musical icon. She learns that this Simpsons character was born deaf and is hoping to receive a cochlear implant, and takes a naturally overzealous—and classically Lisa—approach to helping him. Deaf actor John Autry II voiced Monk in this episode of The Simpsons.
Loni Steele Sosthand, who wrote the episode, spoke to Variety about how she brought her personal experience into the episode. Her brother Eli was born deaf. The siblings even worked on a pilot about their lives, featuring Autry. So when it came to the creation of the storyline and casting the character, she knew exactly where to turn.
Sosthand told Variety, “When we were talking about this Bleeding Gums character in our initial brainstorms, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Lisa discovers this whole other side of his life. That led to him having a son, and then we based that character at least somewhat on my brother. And the story grew from there.”
She added that as much as Eli influenced much of Monk’s characterization, including how Bleeding Gums learns his son is deaf, Autry was also a major influence in bringing the character to life. Autry isn’t the only deaf person featured in this Simpsons episode. Sostand’s brother Eli has a role, as well as comedian Kathy Buckley. Kaylee Arellano, Ian Mayorga and Hazel Lopez, a trio of kids from the nonprofit No Limits, also appear in the episode.
Famously, The Simpsons characters only boast four fingers. In order to correctly bring ASL to life on-screen, the TV series brought on two specialists to ensure the sign language used on the show translated correctly—even short a finger. Sosthand shared that the episode was in development long before CODA exploded during awards season.
Speaking of the similarities between the sibling dynamic and music’s role in both the film and the Simpsons episode, she said, “I think it’s great, because the Deaf experience isn’t just one story, there are so many stories to be told.”
Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of ASL on The Simpsons. Or Monk Murphy for that matter.